Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and Miguel Díaz-Canel, subordinate president to Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, both addressed a church in Harlem, New York, on Wednesday, despite an embargo on the latter’s country and personal sanctions on Maduro.
The speeches, which took place Wednesday evening at Harlem’s Riverside Church, took place before a sympathetic crowd. The details of the event remain a mystery as Cuban state police banned journalists from covering it.
“I participated in an emotional act at Riverside Church in Harlem, along with my brother President Miguel Diaz-Canel,” Maduro wrote on Twitter. “We ratify the love and commitment of the Venezuelan people to the Cuban community in New York. Thank you for your solidarity!”
I participated in an emotional act at Riverside Church in Harlem, along with my brother President Miguel Diaz-Canel. We ratify the love and commitment of the Venezuelan people to the Cuban community in New York. Thank you for your solidarity! pic.twitter.com/ldBpmBn6zJ
— Nicolás Maduro (@maduro_en) September 27, 2018
The event occurred under tight security. Cuban state police forced journalists from The Miami Herald and The New York Times to leave the building. According to the Miami Herald, Cuban state security agents intimidated the reporters and chased them out of the church, following them even as they left the building.
“The fact that our reporter was thrown out is not surprising, given the Cuban government’s history of denying us journalists’ visas to cover news out of that country,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald. “But it’s shameful that it happened at an event in the United States and, more importantly, a missed opportunity for coverage given that we have the largest bilingual audience with an interest in Cuba issues.”
According to local reporter Hatzel Vela, the Church’s leadership has been sympathetic to both the Venezuelan and Cuban regimes.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel chose a Church in NY to meet with Cuban regime followers, contradicting at least 4 decades of radical antireligious practice.
Several reporters (@nytimes @MiamiHerald, SouthFL TVStations) were ordered to leave the place by Cuban security agents. pic.twitter.com/3fR8lNMEBr
— FNCA (@voiceofcanf) September 27, 2018
During his speech, Diaz-Canal blamed the Trump administration for their rolling back of sanctions relieved as part of Barack Obama’s ‘”Cuban Thaw,” claiming it caused the “deprivation of Cuban families.”
“As everyone knows, our bilateral relationship with the United States continues to be characterized, above all, by the economic blockade that constitutes a fundamental obstacle to the development and well-being of Cubans, and causes the deprivation of Cuban families,” he declared.
Following the implementation of Obama’s policy, the Castro regime sharply escalated its repression of pro-democracy voices on the island, extending its weekly violent crackdown on the women’s group known as the Ladies in White.
Díaz-Canel holds the title of “President of Cuba.” According to the Cuban constitution, the Communist Party is “the superior leading force of the society and the State,” meaning the head of the Party outranks the head of State. Raúl Castro kept leadership of the party when he made Díaz-Canel “president” in April.
Maduro used the occasion to declare Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” as “victorious,” all while millions of Venezuelans continue to flee the country in need of humanitarian assistance. He had previously refused to confirm his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly this week because of security concerns.
“I really wanted to come for two reasons: First, to bring the truth of the people of Venezuela and present it before the United Nations … and to return to this historic cathedral in Harlem and join this gathering with you. And share with our brother president of Cuba,” he said.
“We have been the victims of a great imperialist aggression, but today I can say that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is still standing, is alive and victorious,” he continued.
The U.S. Treasury personally placed Maduro under sanctions a year ago following his attempt to illegally dissolve the National Assembly, the nation’s legislature. The sanctions freeze any assets Maduro may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from dealing with him generally.
It remains unknown whether Riverside Church leaders paid Maduro or Díaz-Canel for their presence at the event.
The event was made all the more bizarre by the two men’s decades of anti-religious policy, with Cuban regime brutally repressing and imprisoning those who attempt to practice Christianity, while Maduro regularly clashes with and attacks his country’s Catholic Church.
The presence of the two leaders, both of whom are sanctioned by the United States as they continue to commit egregious human rights abuses against their own people, raises questions about the ethics of allowing them into the country for such an event. Under United Nations law, the host country is not allowed to detain or interfere with visiting leaders even if they are violating international law.